…looks a lot like a sheep.
It seems like there is a trend going around in churches today. You can see it advertised on billboards and television, or printed on the card you found on your doorstep or car windshield in the Walmart parking lot:
“A church for those who hate church”
“A church for those who need a second chance”
“A place where you can heal”
And they all sound really good. As a matter of fact, I think I wanted to adopt one of those slogans for my church at some point in my ministry. Why?
Because there is truth behind them. And, quite honestly, if your church isn’t about healing and second chances, then you don’t understand or walk in the grace and love of Christ.
And, every ‘up and coming’ church, planted or born into this society has taken on this war cry in some form or fashion – because they know that there are hurting people out there. They know that there are people walking through some nasty stuff: sin, pain, heartache…
And those people need to feel accepted and loved.
But by there own church
Today’s trend does not end with a cool slogan, but with a pursuit of sheep. From other pastures. The big, cool thing to do as a church in today’s society is to be so relevant…so cool…so forgiving…that they will naturally (and forcefully) absorb Believers from other churches around them.
I cringe when I speak to pastors I know who excitedly tell me they are “really growing” and “God is really blessing them” and it’s with the sheep of other flocks in the area.
It’s an easy thing to do. Excitement about your church should pour out onto everyone you encounter. And it is an easy thing to excuse and justify. When you see someone hurting or unhappy, you want to help them and offer them a solution.
A few months ago, I had a pastor in our county approach me in a public setting and invite me to his church. I knew who he was, but he obviously didn’t know me. He said that his church was ‘a place for second chances’ and told me I should check it out. I did not mention that I was a pastor, but did tell him that I was a part of our church, and mentioned it by name. He proceeded to tell me what was wrong with our church and how my family and I should leave it and come hear him preach, because ‘God is really showing up there’.
I politely declined and allowed him to go on his merry way, and allowed the wolf to move along to devour other sheep. See, the amazing thing about a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that it looks a lot like a sheep. Which, by all accounts, can be tricky and deceptive. Someone should tell those wolves to stop.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7: 15-20
I know that at first glance, it may seem that I am bitter and jealous, and a little hurt.
Well, I am a little hurt. Hurt that the lost are being ignored for quick growth. Hurt that ‘men of God’ pursue other believers with a vengeance and unbelievers with no zeal at all. And hurt that I have to protect my flock from other shepherds. And I weep for those churches who have ‘divided up’ over this issue because pastor’s were preyed upon by their comrades in arms.
But do not mistake for bitterness and jealousy what is actually zeal for the truth of Scripture and protection of my flock.
This may seem like an inconsequential matter. As long as people are in church, then we are doing our job, right?
Wrong. Pastors that sit waiting outside the doors of other churches, salivating, sounds an awful lot like a wolf and not like a sheep. I don’t usually imagine sheep salivating. And churches led by men like this can never be a good ‘win’ for the gospel of Christ. And a church led by wolves will never seek to save the lost.
As pastors, we have the chance to walk through some hard times with people. We have the amazing chance to speak into people’s lives and to point them to Christ in the midst of their hard times. We also have to confront sin and seek to walk members…church family…through repentance and restoration. It can be some of the most humbling and spiritually meaningful times of a pastor’s life. We pour our lives into others, and invest time into relationships. Like our actual families, we develop ‘family’ with those in our church.
And when a family member goes through a hard time, the last thing you want to discover is that they are being ‘courted’ and pursued by pastors from other churches the moment you walk out of their home.
“It’s hard there, isn’t it? No one understands you or accepts you. Everyone is judging you there. You don’t have to put up with this. You need to do what’s best for you…so, why don’t you leave there and come to our church? It’s a great place for second chances and healing.”
I don’t believe that this was the example Jesus was pointing to when he told us to “Go into all the world and make disciples…”
I tend to ramble…
Have you ever thought about the wording of the slogan, “A church for those who hate church”?
– It’s like Justin Bieber’s song “Never Say Never” which contradicts itself in it’s own title. He said never twice!
– And more importantly, it implies that those who will attend are those with church background, who left their church for whatever reason (usually: anger, bitterness, broken relationships and unrepentant SIN) in order to go there.
– And these second chance churches offer a place to come and mend your wounds to those who are running from some serious stuff that needs to be addressed, walked through and repented of. They aren’t willing to stick around and deal with it, so it goes undiscussed and unresolved into this next church, and everyone licks the bloody gunshot wound…but refuse to do the hard, painful job of surgically removing the bullet. So the bullet stays in there. Until they get upset about something else and move on to the next ‘second chance’ church that pursued them.
And, yes, I am against second chances. Because I am for the never-ending, all-forgiving grace of God. Ephesians says that by GRACE you are saved…not through your works so that none of us could boast. Second chances point to our works. God’s grace is forever. We must only accept it.
I guess after the last few months, I have come to the very harsh conclusion that I don’t have time for foolishness on this level. I am done playing the game. Because that’s what it is…a game. And in the words of Mr. Wilder from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic series “Little House on the Prairie” (which I am currently reading my daughter for bedtime), “Never bet money on another man’s game.”
There are more important things than competing for the attention of sheep. There are lost to be found. If your concern is growing your church by pursuing those in another, then so be it. The Good Shepherd doesn’t play…he shoots wolves.
I think I’ll just keep pursuing the lost.
Some questions to consider whether or not this is you (if you had some doubts):
1. What percentage of your church has come from other churches?
2. What percentage of your time is spent pursuing the lost vs. ‘counseling’ those from other churches?
3. What does your fruit testify about you?
Check your church. Check your pastor.
Pastor, do not be so quick to ‘rescue’ and pursue sheep from other flocks. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to encourage them to reconciliation with their church. Do not let them run from sin accountability by running to your church.
Pastors, man up and lead your flocks well.